Russian State-owned nuclear group Rosatom has reaffirmed its respect for South Africa’s domestic policy debates and decisions.
“We respect South African government processes and decisions,” states Rosatom International regional VP: Sub-Saharan Africa Viktor Polikarpov. “The new [South African] Integrated Energy Plan has been published for public discussion and that is now under way. We are expecting debate in South Africa and we are looking forward to its outcome.”
“As a potential nuclear vendor to South Africa, we remain very interested in bidding [for a new nuclear energy programme],” he says. “But we can’t comment on government decisions.”
Rosatom’s interest in South Africa is not restricted to bidding for new nuclear power plants (NPPs). Group subsidiary Tenex has been supplying South Africa’s electricity utility Eskom with nuclear fuel – for the Koeberg NPP – for 20 years. The contract expires next year and Tenex will be tendering for the new contract.
Rosatom’s involvement in South Africa is also not restricted to energy. “South Africa has long been involved with nuclear [technology],” he points out. “We’re very keen to work with Necsa [South African Nuclear Energy Corporation]. We have ordered some components from Necsa.”
Rosatom’s – and, indeed, the world’s – first Generation III+ reactor is now fully operational, and has been connected to the Russian grid since August, achieving full power in October. It is located at Novovoronezh, and has the designation VVER-1200. It is known either as Novovoronezh Unit 6 (it is the sixth reactor built at the Novovoronezh NPP site) or as Novovoronezh II Unit 1. A second VVER-1200 is being built at the same site. (Of the other five reactors at the Novovoronezh NPP, two have been decommissioned and three are still operating.)
VVER is the Russian equivalent of the American pressurised water reactor or PWR. The basic VVER design was developed some 40 years ago and it has proven to be very reliable, accumulating more than 1 400 years of reactor operation. “We believe [the VVER-1200] is one of the safest reactors in the world,” assures Polikarpov. “It automatically controls itself in an emergency. It has, for example, a ‘core catcher’ should a meltdown occur. It is very, very safe.”
Other VVER-1200s are under construction or planned, and not just in Russia. One is being built in Belarus. And Rosatom has signed an agreement to build four in Egypt. It has also signed an agreement to build NPPs in Nigeria, but that project has been slowed because of the economic downturn in that country. “We’re replicating this technology the world over,” he highlights “We have been contracted for 42 reactors to be built using this technology, around the world. We’ll offer it to South Africa.”
But the VVER is not the only nuclear energy technology Rosatom is involved in. “We are developing new nuclear technology, such as molten sodium reactors,” he notes. In December last year, Rosatom connected its first BN-800 molten sodium reactor to the Russian grid. The BN-800 is a fast neutron reactor design that uses liquid sodium for cooling and to transfer heat and has a capacity of 800 MW. Fast neutron reactors can break down high-level nuclear waste (this waste, produced by PWRs and VVERs, can be used to fuel fast neutron reactors; the two types thus complement each other).
Rosatom is a totally integrated, complete spectrum nuclear group. It encompasses everything from uranium mining to nuclear electricity generation, from pure science to nuclear and radiation and from the manufacturing of power generation equipment to the operation of nuclear-powered icebreakers.